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Traditionally, emancipatory politics is a question of knowing which parts of so-

ciety are capable of counting for something, and which ones are not. From such
a perspective, the founding act of politics consists in uncovering what Rancire
termed the conflict over the existence of a common stage and over the existence
and status of those present on it
. Formulating the question of emancipatory
politics in terms of existence means acknowledging that there is a constitutive
disjunction between politics and the system of domination, a system that is usu-
ally characterised as a system of placement, identification, counting, or quite
simply the State. Indeed, the division between two irreconcilable logics: the egal-
itarian or generic, on the one hand, and distributive or constructivist, on the
other, is, according to some of the most radical political thinkers today, consid-
ered to be definitional of politics as such. Hence, if politics itself is viewed as a
disruptive excess of equality over to the distributive logic of the State, this signals
that a new perspective is opened for the theorization of politics: one that locates
the proper place for emancipatory politics, that is, for political subjects who are
not social groups but rather forms of inscriptions of the count of the uncounted,
within the very terrain in which the statist counting operates.
In a certain sense, the polarity between the State and the politics of emancipa-
tion is only tenable if the State is reduced to what Lacan singled out under the
name of the masters discourse conceived as a power of positing, the power of the
signifier to call something into being. As a matter of fact, for Lacan, [E]very di-
mension of being is produced in the wake of the masters discourse the dis-
course of he who, proffering the signifier, expects therefrom one of its link effects
[] which is related to the fact that the signifier commands. The signifier is, first
and foremost, imperative.
In the field of politics, the masters discourse, given
Filozofski vestnik VOUme ``` NUme 2 2009 24/2/8
Jelica umi-Riha*
Infinitization of the Subject
J. Rancire, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. by Julie Rose (Minneapolis: Univer-
sity Press of Minnesota, 1999), pp. 2627.
J. Rancire, Onzes theses sur la politique, in Filozofski vestnik, n 2/1997, p. 99.
J. Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: Encore, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York and
* Institute of Philosophy at SRC SASA, Ljubljana
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that it aims at saying what is, could essentially be viewed as a symbolic consti-
tution of the social order according to a certain logic of predication: by estab-
lishing the relation between the elements that constitute a given situation and
their attributes, the masters discourse effects the partition of the sensible, to
borrow Rancires well-known expression, by determining what counts and what
is of no account, what is visible and what is not, in the final analysis, what ex-
ists and what does not. In light of this, the masters discourse is obviously cre-
ative. Having the performative power of the signifier to structure the social field
by assigning to the members of a given society a place and a function, the mas-
ters discourse can be seen as the power of conferring existence, a paradoxical
power, as it requires the subjects complicity in order to be fully effective. While
it is true that before his/her place is mapped out by the masters discourse, the
subject does not yet exist; he/she is, strictly speaking, a potentiality, he/she can
as yet have no being, yet it is only after taking up a place and function assigned
to him/her by the master discourse that the subject comes into existence: the
subject can become what he or she is from the viewpoint of the State, that is,
only by taking upon himself/herself the function imposed upon him/her by the
State. Indeed, only by being identified, by assuming his/her role or function, can
the subject exist at all. The symbolic birth of the subject or, rather, the quandary
of his/her existence is formulated by Lacan, as is well known, in terms of a fun-
damental alienation: either I am nothing but this mark (this role, function, or
mandate, attributed to me by the social Other), or I am not this mark, which
means that I am not at all. The subject can thus be a mark, or not be.
is thus created is an empty subject, lacking being and signifier: from the mo-
ment the subject consents to his/her symbolic existence, i.e., takes up the sym-
bolic identification assigned to him/her, he/she becomes name-less, caught in an
infinite quest, in the metonymy of his/her identifications, for the missing signi-
fier, the one which could at last name him/her in his/her being.
Bearing in mind the ontological dimension inherent in the discourse of the mas-
ter, as its principal task is to decide what exists, the crucial question for every
emancipatory politics worthy of the name is of course: how can that come into
being which, within the framework of the masters discourse, ultimately, does
London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998), p. 32.
J. Lacan, unpublished seminar Lacte psychanalytique (1967 1968), the lesson of 10
ary 1968.
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not exist? At first sight, it may appear that, faced with deciding between (real)
being and (symbolic) existence or identification, there can be no choice for the
subject. Due to the fact that before the identification with his/her symbolic man-
date, the subject does not exist at all, the choice of being over identification
would prove catastrophic, in truth, an impossible choice, since it would exclude
the subject from society and relegate his/her existence to the obscurity of a life
outside the discursive space where all that counts is exactly the place that one oc-
cupies within this space. In social terms, it then appears that the subject cannot
avoid choosing identity, as it is through identification that one can obtain a sense
of existence but at the price of complete identification with the role laid out for
one by the Other.
From the standpoint of emancipatory politics, however, there is a possible way
out. The starting point of emancipatory politics is nothing but the irreducible
gap between the subjects being and his/her symbolic existence or, more pre-
cisely, its departure point is not the alienated subject of the masters discourse,
the subject taken up by the masters order, but rather the subject as the failure
of the masters discourse to completely absorb or take up his/her being in the
imposed system of places and functions. It thus sets out from the excess of the
subjects being over the statist counting the remainder, the waste-product of
the operation of predication by which the State structures the social reality. In a
sense, the emancipatory politics is only possible because there is something that
is limping in the regime of mastery: the subject, insofar as he/she can never co-
incide with the role laid out for him/her by the discourse of the master. Hence,
when it is the forced choice instituted by the law of the situation, whether one
terms it the masters discourse, as Lacan does, or the transcendental regime of
the world, as Badiou does, which must be brought into question in order to reveal
the utterly contingent character of its necessity, then the only possibility for the
subject to face the forced choice is, ultimately, to choose what cannot be chosen:
being. In order to find a new existence, a form of life beyond or outside the exis-
tence that has been prescribed by the logic of the situation, the subject must,
paradoxically, first choose not-to-be.
Taking Joan of Arc as a model, Badiou provides a compelling account of the sub-
jects choice of non-being as the obligatory step in his/her coming into (a new)
existence. What constitutes Joan of Arc as a proper event in the sense Badiou
conceives of this term is namely a series of successive choices not to be what
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 249
the situation prescribes her to be
. Hence, what characterises Joan of Arc as an
emancipatory subject, according to Badiou, is exactly a kind of subtraction from
the possibilities or roles that her time had prescribed to her contemporaries, an
invention of a posture that allowed her to maintain herself at a distance from the
situation of the times. The subject must be willing to accept his/her non-being,
that is to say, his/her subjective destitution, in order to begin to create a new
being ex-nihilo, as it were. In essence, what marks out the initial position of the
emancipatory subject, a sort of common denominator of various figures of the
political subject, is their refusal of the imposed identification, even and espe-
cially if such refusal brings their very symbolic existence into question. This
choice of Joan of Arc not to be or, more generally, this ability of the subject to
escape the power of identifications imposed on him or her by the Other, i.e. this
newly acquired margin of the subjects freedom, is what Lacan calls the infini-
tization of the value of the subject
. Lacan namely presents the subject as a frac-
tion which takes on an infinite value insofar as the zero in the denominator, a
kind of stand-in for a traumatic encounter with the real, abolishes the value of
all terms placed in the numerator. It is noteworthy that, for Lacan, the infiniti-
zation of the subject signifies the function of freedom. This is not to be under-
stood in the sense that the zero is open to all interpretations that have been
attached to that signifier in the course of the subjects desperate successive at-
tempts to render the irruption of the real meaningful, but rather in the sense that
all of them are cancelled out. And that is just what the choice of being involves:
a solution where the subject designates his being only by barring everything it
In view of the infinitization of the subject, to choose being is to choose the choice,
the possibility to choose. The choice of being, at this point, it is less a matter of
the choice of a concrete form of life. It is not about choosing this or that. At
stake in this second choice is rather, to quote Badiou, the choice to choose, the
choice between choosing and not choosing,
where the potentiality of this
A. Badiou, Linsoumission de Jeanne, in Esprit, n. 238, p. 29.
J. Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. by Alan Sheridan (Lon-
don: Penguin books, 1977), p. 252.
J. Lacan, The Signification of the Phallus, in crits, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York and Lon-
don: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), p. 581.
A. Badiou, The Clamour of Being, transl. by Louise Burchill (Minneapolis and London: Uni-
versity of Minnesota Press, 2000), p. 11.2.
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choice to choose can be, of course, re-established only retroactively: in actu-
ality, i.e., the here and now of this second choice. So, in some sense, emancipa-
tory politics can be said to be concerned with the question of existence and being
simply because it sets out from the assumption that the forced choice can be re-
voked by reconfiguring the coordinates of the initial choice. Why, indeed, one
might ask, would emancipatory politics have as its pre-condition ones putting
at stake of ones position of the subject, indeed, ones very (symbolic) existence,
if no choice were involved in the forced choice? Yet it is only from the standpoint
of the second choice, the choice of being, that the subject discovers that he/she
was free and therefore responsible, forced to bear the consequences of his/her
choice, when he/she opts for what the social Other imposes upon him/her as the
only possible choice, namely his/her alienation in a given structure of repre-
sentation and domination. In confronting the forced choice qua choice, the sub-
ject annuls it, more specifically, he/she annuls the imposed aspect of the
necessity implied in the forced choice. The choice of being, we could then argue,
is exactly the gesture that effects a kind of return to the point of departure which
preceded the attribution of existence, since it allows the subject to regain his/her
power of choice in order to confront once more, as it were, the original choice:
being/existence, thus allowing him/her to ratify or to reject his/her initial, al-
though forced choice. Emancipatory politics, on this account, is nothing but a
process of re-subjectivation allowing the subject, enslaved by the masters dis-
course, to repeat the act of choosing in order to verify his/her first choice. Inso-
far as emancipatory politics makes it possible for the subject to restore his/her
capacity to choose, Lacan seems quite confirmed in his claim that one is always
responsible for ones position as a subject,
on the proviso that one understands
this responsibility in terms of the subjects radical conversion or re-birth: in order
for the subject to accede to this point beyond the imposed identifications and/or
symbolic existence,
it is as desires object a, as what he was to the Other in his erection as a living being,
as wanted or unwanted when he came into the world, that he is called to be reborn in
order to know if he wants what he desires.
J. Lacan, Science and Truth, in crits, p. 729.
J. Lacan, Remarks on Daniel Lagaches Presentation: Psychoanalysis and Personality
Structure, in crits, pp. 571572.
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Separation from the Other becomes possible whenever a dysfunction of the seem-
ingly faultless functioning of the masters discourse becomes visible. In order for
the masters discourse to vacillate, there must be, a gap, an incommensurability
between being and existence. It is this breach that allows the subject to chal-
lenge the masters regime rather than consent to blindly follow it as law. To the
extent that the choice of being involves the refusal of all identification, i.e. the
possibility for the subject to disengage himself/herself from the social Other, it
also shows how the subject, precisely by being nothing but an empty place
within the Other, can nevertheless render the Other incomplete, and disrupt the
smooth working of its order. Likewise, emancipatory politics aims at the lack in
the Other, its impossibility to completely absorb the being of the subject, to trans-
pose it into the signifier. Lacan indicates at several points, notably in his text
, that it is the hole that structures. Lack is in fact necessary to the
subject for him/her to sustain himself in the masters regime which constitutes
his social reality.
To Have or to Be
To arrive at an understanding of how the choice of being can be re-enacted in
the field of politics, we must keep in mind that existence can only be situated on
the basis of a discourse which constitutes an institutional framework deter-
mining the type of social existence. Consequently, if emancipatory politics aims
at reconfiguring the existing state of affairs, it is the impossible choice of being
over the symbolic existence or identification that imposes itself upon the sub-
ject. No better idea of the effects that the choice of being might produce in the
field of politics can be given than by expanding on a point which has been made
by Giorgio Agamben a propos the Chinese May 89. In his book The Coming Com-
munity, Agamben evokes the Tiananmen demonstrations to illustrate emanci-
patory politics such as is possible at the present time: a politics of whatever
singularities. The latter being Agambens name for a new, unheard-of figure of
the emancipatory subject situated beyond both all identity and every condition
of belonging to any community whatsoever. In this remarkably lucid analysis
one also finds elements for understanding when the mere fact of speaking can
count as an act:
J. Lacan, Ltourdit, in Autres crits (Paris: Seuil, 2001), p. 483.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 252
What was most striking about the demonstrations of the Chinese May was the relative
absence of determinate contents in their demands (democracy and freedom are no-
tions too generic and broadly dened to constitute the real object of conict, and the
only concrete demand, the rehabilitation of Hu Yao-Bang, was immediately granted).
This makes the violence of the State's reaction seem even more inexplicable. [] In the
nal instance, the State can recognize any claim for identity even that of a State iden-
tity within the State (the recent history of relations between the State and terrorism is
an eloquent conrmation of this fact). What the State cannot tolerate in any way, ho-
wever, is that the singularities form a community without arming an identity, that hu-
mans co-belong without any representable conditions of belonging. [] The State, as
Alain Badiou has shown, is not founded on a social bond, of which it would be the ex-
pression, but rather on the dissolution, the unbinding that it prohibits. For the State,
therefore, what is important is never the singularity as such, but only its inclusion in
some identity, whatever identity (but the possibility of the whatever itself being taken
up without an identity is a threat that the State cannot come to terms with.
Highlighting the resistance of whatever singularities to any form of representa-
tion, Agamben marks a subtle, yet significant change in emphasis. Indeed, what
is subversive about whatever singularities, this powerful example of the inven-
tion of a new political subject, are neither their ways of doing nor their ways
of saying, what is subversive is rather their way of being: in peacefully demon-
strating the impotent omnivalence of whatever being
, whatever singularities
bring all possible belongings radically into question. Thus, if we are to follow Agam-
ben, by situating themselves beyond belonging to any community whatsoever, by
presenting in the here and now what could best be called, in Badious jargon, po-
litical unbinding, thereby defying any system of classification or counting, ulti-
mately, any predicative inscription in the symbolic, whatever singularities incar-
nate the principal enemy of the State. In this regard, the mere staging, putting
on stage of the social unbinding, presents a threat to the proper function of dis-
course, that of esta blishing a social link. What is actually involved in the concept
of whatever singularity is a peculiar figure of unbinding that announces, in the
words of Lacan, another dimension of discourse and opening up the possibility
of completely subverting the function of discourse as such
. Precisely as an ele-
G. Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. by Michael Hardt (Minneapolis and London: Uni-
versity of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp. 8586.
Ibid., p. 10.
J. Lacan, Encore, p. 30.
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ment which is unsituable within the social space, as construed by the State, a
whatever singularity appears as a place-holder for the anonymity of the generic:
manifesting their belonging to themselves, whatever singularities affirm gener-
icity, in Badious words, under the guise of the disparate we of togetherness
That is to say, in refusing to give up on the demand that there be a we,
as Ba-
diou puts it, a collective emancipatory subject which, in accordance with Lacans
thesis that a group is the real, that is, impossible, manifests its own inherent dis-
parity, without dissolving itself.
What is striking about Agambens example of the way in which a new political
subject is formed is the divisive power of its demands, it is the manner in which
whatever singularities succeed in uncovering the lack in the Other, thus pro-
voking the Others passage to the act, a proof that the statist Other is facing its
impotence. This clearly indicates that, for the emancipatory subject, the Others
lack is central because its demand concerns its existence as subject, an exis-
tence obtained through the Other. What is initially so striking about the Tianan-
men students protest is the fact that nothing that was actually said there, no
content of the students demands, could have had such a subversive force to pro-
voke the violent response of the state power. Indeed, the intolerable threat that
the state power recognized in the students demonstrations is not to be sought
in some specific, concrete content of their demands, but resides ultimately in
the fact that their demands were perceived by the State as claims which are by
definition unfulfillable. In effect, from the standpoint of the Chinese State, the
students demanded the impossible. What they demanded, in fact, was not what
the State could give, but, literally, what it could not give: the exposure of its im-
potence, its lacking the means to satisfy their demands. What was unbearable
for the Chinese State to the point that the mere fact of uttering these demands
made it respond with force, is the insistence of the demand beyond all its spe-
cific contents, an insatiable More! that no amount of giving and concessions on
the part of the State could appease. From Agambens account of the Tiananmen
demonstrations it is namely clear that the protestors demands could not be as-
suaged as they served to constantly re-inscribe the initial lack of the Other, its
lack of means to satisfy them.
A. Badiou, The Century, trans. by Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), p. 97.
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The mere fact that the demand could persist, insist beyond all particular con-
tents, requires that we make a rigorous distinction between two structurally dif-
ferent demands: a want-to-have and a want-to-be. The elementary form of
demand is situated at the level of the having. In the want-to-have, the Other is al-
ways-already there. Every demand, inasmuch as it is formulated in terms of the
lack of having, is directed at the Other that is supposed to have what we are lack-
ing. By making the subject dependent on the Other, since in order to obtain what
one is lacking it is necessary to presuppose an Other that lacks nothing, a de-
mand for having, is therefore constitutively alienating. A want-to-be, a demand
for being, by contrast, is a demand which, properly speaking, makes no claims
addressed to the Other as the one who has. Rather, it is articulated to the
Others lack. In demanding being, the subject may well appear to be demand-
ing a complement of being that is supposed to be located somewhere in the
Other. However, the mere possibility of expressing such a demand indicates that
one cannot find ones place in the Other, such as it is, revealing in this way that,
in demanding being one demands nothing from the Other that the latter might
supply on demand, nothing that could therefore fall under the heading of the
having. The crucial point here is that, whereas the demand of having allows the
Other to gain a tighter grip on the subject, the demand for being, by contrast, in-
volves the subjects separation from the Other. It is for that reason that a demand
for being is intrinsically subversive, revolutionary.
The case of the Tiananmen demonstrations seems to be a particularly appropri-
ate example that can account for the splitting of the demand since a disjunction
is introduced at the moment at which a demand which appears to be a demand
for some specific having (democracy, freedom) suddenly turns into a demand
of a quite different type, a peculiar demand since it is somewhat indifferent to its
fulfillment, thereby indicating that its proper objective is the subjects being.
In some radical sense, all demands of the subject are demands for being since the
subjects initial demand is motivated by the fact that the Other lacks the signifier
to capture the whole of his/her being. Being nothing but the interval, the gap be-
tween two signifiers, the subject always seems to be lacking in some respect.
Which is why, in order to make good the lack of his/her being, the subject des-
perately seeks a complement of its being that is presumably located somewhere
in the Other. Hence, there is no contradiction in the fact that there can be no de-
mand without aiming at the lack of being that supports it, and the fact that the
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subjects demand for being always appears in the guise of a demand for some-
thing, in short, a demand for having. It then appears that a demand for being is,
as such, a paradoxical demand. It is paradoxical, first of all, because it can never
be expressed as such. A demand for being is namely always dressed up in a
demand for having, disguised, so to speak, as a wanting-to-have. As a result of
this obligatory passage of the demand for being through the demand for having,
something of the demand for being gets lost in translation and it is this inelim-
inable remainder of the unsatisfied demand that operates as a stand-in for the
demand for being. In a certain sense, it can only assert itself as a wanting-to-have,
i.e. as a demand for something, whatever that might be, a having which is a stand-
in for the unsayable want-to-be. In other words, one of the particular demands
for having, which represents, within the space of the Other, an anomaly in the
order of demands, as it aims at an object that is, from the perspective of the Other,
unattainable, stands in for the constitutively inexpressible demand for being. A
demand for being is, in the strictest sense, an impossible demand for having, that
is to say, a demand which, under the existing positive social order, has to remain
unfulfilled. Yet it is precisely because some demand for having remains unin-
scribable in the existing discursive universe, that it can make manifest the sub-
jects lack of being and, consequently, lead the latter to claim its being.
Hence, to take up the example of the demands made by the Chinese protestors,
there does not seem to be anything specific about their demands for democracy
and freedom, for instance, that immediately situates such demands under one
heading or the other. Yet precisely this relative absence of determinate contents
in their demands, as has been rightly emphasized by Agamben, reveals one of
the essential features of the demand for being. Actually, it is because democ-
racy and freedom do not have intrinsic contents of their own, i.e., it is pre-
cisely as empty signifiers that they can figure as a paradoxical incarnation of
the subjects lack of being, indicating in this way that the proper object of such
a demand for being is a demand for something which has no being, just like the
famous Lacanian object a that can be characterized solely negatively: That is not
This insistence of the demand for being, however, is not to be confused with the desires eter-
nal This is not it! that signals the structural impossibility of satisfaction. Rather, to the extent
that any having can, in principle, operate like a stand-in for the proper object of a demand
for being, on the condition that it opens the way to repetition, to the eternal return of the same.
Hence, by not giving up on this object, whatever this may be, a demand for being betrays the
insistence that characterizes the drive.
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it!, a paradoxical lack of having that can only emerge through the subjects dis-
appointment once he/she obtains the demanded object. One can therefore argue
that a demand for being is, to quote Lacan, but the request for the object a,
the latter giving body to the void presupposed by the demand as such. If, by
slightly revising Lacans formulation, we could state that the discordance be-
tween want-to-have and want-to-be is our subject,
this is because the demand
for being is, ultimately, nothing but a division of the One into Two, a scission of
the demand for having itself, or, in the word of Badiou, a minimal, yet absolute
difference between a having and the void to which it gives body.
The demand for being is a paradoxical demand for yet another reason. On one
hand, a demand for being, as any other demand, is addressed to the Other.
Only here, the very fact that it is a demand for being, signifies that there is no
room for the subject in this Other, to which the subject addresses its request. This
is because a demand for being can only be addressed to the Other by an inexis-
tent agency of sorts, those who are denied a place in a given social order, that part
of society that is in excess of the classification, unaccounted for by the masters
discourse. In this respect, a demand for being is not a demand for something in
particular, the satisfaction of which would depend on the Other's good will,
for it is quite clear that the satisfaction of the demand for being made by the in-
existent part of society, one which is uncounted and unaccounted for in the given
structure of assigned places, would have the effect of making the Other disap-
pear, a disappearance by which the whole of its order is annihilated, too. This
fact alone justifies us in situating the demands of the Chinese demonstrators
under the heading of the demand for being rather than that of the demand for
having. There where Western observers could recognize in the demand for the
freedom of speech, for democracy, merely a demand for having, the Chinese State
correctly placed freedom and democracy in the register of the empty signifiers as
the metonymy of the protesters lack-of-being, a being incompatible with the es-
tablished order of things, thereby correctly deciphering behind the apparent de-
mand for having (democracy and freedom), a No! directed at the existing regime
of mastery. The Chinese State, by responding with violence, thus returned to the
demonstrators their own message in an inverted, which is to say, in its true form:
behind what appears to be a demand for having, it correctly recognized that noth-
J. Lacan, Encore, p. 126.
Ibid., p. 120.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 257
ing that it can give them would satisfy them, thereby indicating that such a de-
mand, by not being reducible to a having, as such, proves to be incompatible
with the existing order of power. We understand that in demanding only more
democracy and freedom, the Other is presumed to reply to the demonstrating
students, you are in fact demanding that the actual socio-political order should
exist no more.
It is, therefore, only to the extent that being itself is at stake in the demand for
being that the mere fact of proffering such a demand can bring about a radical
modification of the connection between the subject and the Other. A demand is,
as such, always destined to the Other. To put it bluntly: all demands are articu-
lated, fundamentally, to the Other. All demand calls for a reply from the Other.
What this immediately implies is that for a demand to be recognized by the
politico-social Other in the first place, it has to be reduced, downgraded to a
lack of having. This may be why in an era of the proliferation of demands, all
these demands, inasmuch as they are made in the name of belonging to some al-
ready existing group, in the name of some communal identity, such as it is rep-
resented in the Other's order, can, in principle, be acknowledged by the latter.
From our earlier developments, however, it is clear that the subject obtains some
sense of its being by being identified with what the Other lacks. A wanting-to-be
may well seem to be addressed to the Other that is supposed to be whole, but the
very fact that such a demand is possible at all bears witness to the lack in the
socio-political Other. In fact, it is through such a demand for being that the lack
in the Other, its incompleteness, comes to light. Ultimately, insofar as such a de-
mand presupposes some kind of exclusion, the only message of the demand for
being that is directed at the Other by those who occupy the position of internal
exclusion within the established order, is: You are not whole!. In this sense,
we might consider that whenever the demand for being succeeds in forcing the
socio-political Other to acknowledge it, this necessarily involves a complete re-
configuration of the existing socio-political framework, thus engendering a new
Other, ultimately, it involves the creation of a new order. It is then this particu-
larity of the demand, its fundamental dependence on the Other, that a demand
for being subverts by revealing that demand made by whatever or generic sin-
gularities, precisely those singularities that lay no claim to identity and refuse
any criteria of belonging to whatever community, cannot be recognized by the
Other as a legitimate claim. The operator of the social linking, the State, and
generic singularities are mutually exclusive since, to ratify a demand made by
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 258
generic singularities would namely entail the unbinding of all social bonds, an
unbinding that undermines the State whose raison d'tre is exactly to assure the
social bond by distributing singularities according to the established system of
places in the social order.
A demand for being is therefore a paradoxical demand since it can only be is-
sued from some unthinkable place, literally, a non-place, to be precise, since it
is made by an instance which, being a waste-product of the constitution of the
social order, of the Others counting, cannot, by definition, have a place within
the Others order. A demand for being can only be expressed from the position of
an instance which, by being but an unsituable excess, does not have its proper
place in the field of the Other and is therefore condemned to endlessly err in the
space of the Other. This place from which a demand for being is issued is, strictly
speaking, an invisible, or better put, perhaps, a nonexistent place, a place that
is not yet given in the Other. And conversely, the very fact that a demand for being
is made signifies that the Other, which declared that there is no loss, that every-
thing that counts has been counted and can be accounted for, is not whole, that
it is incomplete, since, in its order, there is no possible room for the inexistent,
i.e., those who demand to be recognized in their being. This is why whenever the
inexistent, that is, such an instance that has no proper place in the discursive
space of the Other, declares its being-there, it renders the Other necessarily in-
This would amount to asserting that in order to make itself be there, i.e. to be in-
cluded in the Others order, the subject first has to make a place in which to in-
scribe its being. One might even add here that there is no demand for being that
does not in some sense create the space in which it is to be inscribed. One can
therefore argue that the emancipatory subject speaks out or makes its demand for
being from the point at which the Other falls silent. However, no demand can be
made if one does not exist. It is for that reason that a demand for being always
manifests itself through a proclamation of existence: nos sumus, nos exis-
, a proclamation which signifies that something which, for the Other,
does not exist at all, which was therefore mute, starts to speak out. The subject
comes into being here by proclaiming we are, we exist, thereby ratifying the
being that is only anticipated in such a proclamation. The subject speaks out as
This formulation is borrowed from J. Rancire's Disagreement, p. 36.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 259
if it already existed. In truth, the declaration we are, we exist can be issued at
the moment in which the subject who claims to exist, does not yet exist, because,
in the socio-political configuration established by the Other, there is no possible
place for it to be situated in. To find one's place in a given symbolic order, if this
place is not already provided by the Other itself and assigned by it to the sub-
ject, therefore requires that the subject bores its way into the Other, makes a hole
into the Other and situates itself in that hole. Hence, the subject can speak out
only by making holes in a given order of power, or better still, by adding some-
thing which, with regard to this order, is regarded as superfluous, in excess, a
disturbing surplus that should not be there in the first place, indeed, that which,
from the moment that the Other acknowledged its existence, would cause the
disappearance of the Other itself.
The Curse of Metonymy
This is why the subject of the demand for being has affinities with the position
of the hysterical subject, namely that subject who, at the level of being, can only
exist if the Other is lacking. Indeed, just like the hysteric, the subject of the de-
mand for being occupies the place of the barred subject the subject which ex-
periences its lack of identity as a lack of being, a lack of its being in the Other: it
is not because it cannot situate itself there. Consequently, the hysteric will con-
centrate her efforts towards exposing the lack in the Other, or, if necessary, by
boring a hole in the Other in order to make a room for herself. Lacking being,
and unable therefore to recognize herself in the role attributed to her by the
Other, the hysteric is condemned to a ceaseless search for an appropriate signifier
to represent her. But precisely for that reason it is also the subject who, by defini-
tion, rejects the closure, the act of saturation, this being, in Lacans vocabulary, a
masters point de capiton, the act of the hegemon par excellence, which, far
from denying the impossibility of the constitutively non-totalizable social field to
totalize itself, succeeds rendering a given situation legible by drawing a line of
demarcation between that which exists and that which does not. This also ex-
plains why such a subject wants to count, actually, continues to count, after the
Other has declared to have counted all there is to count. Stated differently, if she
wants to add, after the Others the last word, at least one more word, it is because
she does not allow the master to have the last word. In responding to the masters
gesture of closure by adding at least one more signifier, the hysterical subject
opens up a dimension beyond the closure, thereby revealing how is it possible to
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 260
make a move from a logic of necessity, this being eminently the logic of totaliza-
tion, the logic of the all, to a logic of contingency, which is but another name
for the logic of the not-all, and which can only be acceded through the hys-
terics operation of de-totalization. The hysterical gesture concerns us, not just
because it challenges the master, but also because it shows us how it is possible
to pass from closed intervals to what Lacan designates as open sets, in other
words, sets that exclude their own limits
. Which is why the Other, whose count-
ing is based on the sequence of natural numbers, can never catch up with the
hysteric or with the emancipatory subject, for that matter, since they situate
themselves at the level of real numbers, those numbers namely which, because
there is always a real number between any two given real numbers, converge to-
wards a negative limit that will never be reached or, to be more precise, which can
be reached only at infinity.
It is precisely this move from the logic of the all to the logic of the not-all that the
hysterical subject and the emancipatory subject, as it has been theorized by J. Ran-
cire and G. Agamben, have in common. Just as the coming into existence of the
hysterical subject, the political subjectivation rests on a peculiar articulation of
counting and unbinding. The subject, from such a perspective, exists only through
and for the ceaselessly repeated operation of uncovering a miscount in the Other's
count. In either case, in response to the Others counting, the subject proposes an
entirely different operation of counting, one that proceeds one by one. But the
problem with such a solution where the political subjectivation is premised on hys-
terical refusal lies in this very rejection of the closure. And indeed, prima facie, the
closure is what we might think of as the master's gesture par excellence, since it is
a gesture by which it is decided, as Rancire remarks, whether the subjects who
count in the interlocutionare or are not
. Therefore if the elementarygesture of
emancipatory politics consists in de-totalizing all totalization, it becomes apparent
that emancipatory politics, as Rancire sees it, precisely because it depends upon
the master's closure, is only possible in a world in which the Other exists.
J. Lacan, Encore, p. 9. This ability to continue with counting once everything has already been
counted is essential for the hysterical subject. When the hysteric proves that, once the page
is turned, she continues to write on the other side and even on the next page, we are at a loss.
For the hysteric is a logician. J. Lacan, Le sminaire. Livre XVIII. D'un discours qui ne serait pas
du semblant (Paris: Seuil, 2006), p. 157.
J. Rancire, Disagreement, p. 50.
We can understand A. Badiou's critique of Rancire along these lines. See in particular his
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 261
In the view argued for by Badiou, however, the operation by means of which the
emancipatory subject exposes a dysfunction of the Others count, revealing in
this way the lack in the Other, is not the final word on the question, since there
is another perspective, another angle under which emancipatory politics can be
situated in the present conjecture. Hence, contrary to what Rancire holds when
he situates emancipatory politics in a universe in which it is the Other that car-
ries out the closure, we should follow the path taken by Badiou and Lacan and
set out from a situation in which the closure is no longer achievable, moreover,
a situation in which the non-existence of the Other, its inconsistency, is flagrantly
obvious to everybody. To sum up, we could say that the subversion of the mas-
ter's closure is certainly not sufficient to account for an emancipatory politics
that would be more attuned to the deadlocks of globalized capitalism. The rea-
son for this is the mutation of the masters discourse, that namely which, by
being articulated to the lack in the Other, to the barred Other, and which Lacan,
as is well known, designated as the discourse of the capitalist, instead of pro-
viding a new master signifier, capable of rendering a given situation legible, by
an operation which involves the forcing, the crossing of the bar that separates
two incommensurable orders: the symbolic order and the order of the real, liter-
ally lives for the preservation of this bar, thus assuring, through an infinite
quest for the constitutively lacking compliment, an eternization of the existing
state of affairs: an interminable status quo. The capitalist discourse, having as its
structural principle the generalized metonymyzation, from the outset excludes
the possibility of closure. This is also why, with the generalization of metonymy
in the late capitalist conjecture, the problem of a break with the existing state of
affairs acquires an urgency. The real burning question today is thus: How, in-
deed, can we identifiy the wherewithal for prescribing new possibilities,
Badiou explicitly puts it, within the non-totalizable space of discursivity created
by the new dominant discourse, a discourse in which everything is included, in
which the exclusion itself is excluded, and in which therefore everything seems
to be possible?
Metapolitics, trans. by Jason Barker (London and New York: Verso, 2005, pp. 109110). It is not
by chance that key examples used by Rancire to illustrate the working of emancipatory poli-
tics, the Athenian demos and the proletariat, are precisely two models of the political subject
from an epoch in which the operation of conclusion was still possible, i.e. an epoch in which
the Other still existed.
A. Badiou, Metapolitics, p. 72.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 20.3.10 15:25 Page 262
Our point is namely that the possibility of an emancipatory politics changes fun-
damentally as the masters discourse yields to the generalized metonymization.
Or to be more precise, the total hegemony of a discourse that is structurally
metonymic, the capitalist discourse, has decisive consequences for the transfor-
mative power of politics, ultimately, for its capacity to change the transcendental
regime of the present world. What characterizes the globalized capitalist discourse
is precisely that there be nothing left that serves as a barrier. Indeed, in a discourse
that knows no limitation and in which, as a consequence, everything is possible,
it is the impossible that appears to be impossible. We are living in a regime of mas-
tery which no longer proceeds by prohibition and repression and which, thus, ren-
ders transgression and, as a corollary, the idea of a revolutionary change
questionable. For something has radically changed with the globalization of the
capitalist discourse. Globalization, in this respect, does not mean simply that noth-
ing is left in its place as no anchoring seems to be capable of controlling the un-
ending movement of displacements and substitutions. Indeed, in the current space
of discursivity, the notion of place itself is strangely out of place. What is more,
with the category of place thus rendered inoperative, it is one of the key categories
of emancipatory politics, the notion of lack, necessary to the subject for it to sus-
tain itself in the symbolic Other, which as a result becomes obsolete.
There are two structural consequences of this. The first is that, contrary to the
classic discourse of the master, in the capitalist discourse the subject appears to
be disidentified. By situating in the place of the agent, the barred subject that is
essentially guideless, caught in an infinite quest for the missing signifier, the one
which could at last name him, anchor him in the field of the symbolic and put an
end to his erring, the capitalist discourse exploits the lack it installs in the sub-
ject as a way of reproducing itself. The cunning of the capitalist discourse then
consists in exploiting the structure of the desiring subject: by manipulating his
desire, i.e. by reducing it to demand, the capitalist discourse creates the illusion
that, thanks to scientific development and the market, it is able to provide the
subject with the complement of being that he is lacking by transforming the sub-
jects lack of being into the lack of having. In this view, having is considered
to be a cure for the lack of being of the subject of the capitalist discourse. The
second structural consequence is that the subject of the capitalist discourse,
which is the embodiment of the lack of being, is completed by products thrown
on the market. This is why Lacan named the subject of the capitalist discourse
the proletarian. Indeed, it is a subject which is inseparable from that which con-
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 263
stitutes the complement of his being: his surplus-enjoyment, the object a. As the
dominant structure of social relations, the capitalist discourse provides the con-
ditions of an obscure subjectivation which depends on the conversion of the sur-
plus-value, that is to say, any product thrown on the market, into the cause of the
subjects desire. We would suggest that it is precisely this indistinction between
the surplus-value and the surplus-enjoyment which makes it possible for the cap-
italist production of whatever objects to capture, indeed, to enslave the subjects
desire, to sustain its eternal this is not it!. It could be claimed that capitalism,
insofar as it promotes the solipsism of enjoyment, promotes at the same time a
particular communal figure, that which J.-C. Milner termed a paradoxical class,
a collective in which its members are joined or held together by that which disjoins
namely, their idiosyncratic mode of enjoyment. What is thus placed in
question is precisely the social bond. Or to be more precise, the social bond that ex-
ists today is one presented under the form of dispersed individuals that is but an-
other name for the dissolution of all links or unbinding of all bonds.
Both of these
features of the capitalist discourse could, then, be brought together in a single syn-
tagm of the generalized proletarization. In the words of Lacan, there is but one so-
cial symptom: every individual is in effect a proletarian, that is to say that no
discourse is at the disposal of the individual by means of which a social bond could
be established.
Ironically, proletarization remains the symptom of contempo-
rary society. Only, this proletarization is of a particular kind, one that, by being ar-
ticulated with the intrinsically metonymic nature of the capitalist discourse, has
lost all its subversive effectiveness, all its revolutionary potential.
in this way Lacans thesis on the contemporary proletarization, is to shed some
J.-C. Milner, Les noms indistincs (Paris: Seuil, 1983), pp. 116123.
Capitalism, in a sense, could be seen as an aberration among social bonds, since it realizes
what in all the other bonds seems to be impossible: its compatibility with enjoyment. The cap-
italist discourse is a social bond which does not demand that the subject sacrifyce his or her en-
joyment. On the contrary, the capitalist social bond is a bond that adapts itself to the trifle,
the private enjoyment of everybody. So, from this perspective, it could be argued that, not only
does enjoyment not threaten the capitalist social bond, but, on the contrary, capitalism pres-
ents itself as a discourse in which the democracy of enjoyment reigns. It is in the sense of this
solipsistic democracy of jouissance whose sole principle is primum vivere, to live for enjoy-
ment, that we propose to read democratic materialism, a syntagm that Badiou introduces in
order to identify the dominant ideology of our time. See his Logics of Worlds, trans. by Alberto
Toscano (London and New York: Continuum, 2009), pp. 19.
J. Lacan, "La troisime", in Lettres de l'Ecole freudeinne de Paris, n 16, 1975, p. 187.
Despite the fact that the value of the symptom in politics and psychoanalysis differs, never-
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 264
light on the impasses of the present generalized metonymization, in particular
the fact that no social link can be established on the basis of metonymy.
Arguably, it is this generalized metonymization operated by the capitalist dis-
course, which provides us with a plausible key to identifying the difficulties of con-
temporary emancipatory politics in finding a way out of the present impasse. For
the inexistence of the Other, and the resultant limitless expansion of me tonymic
displacements, contrary to what might be expected or hoped for, is not in and of
itself a liberating factor for the subject, it is not experienced by the subject as lib-
eration from the capture which the Other effects upon him/her. Quite the contrary:
in the absence of the master signifier which would render a given situation read-
able, the subject remains a prisoner, not of the Other that exists, but of the inexis-
tent Other, better put perhaps, of the inexistence of the Other. Examined closely,
however, far from disappearing, the Other is re-introduced in a discursive space in
which metonymy dominates. It is by structural necessity that metonymy resusci-
tates the belief in the Other as an agency which, while remaining invisible, situated
at an inaccessible point locatable only at infinity, is supposed to govern this seem-
ingly erratic, properly lawless movement. It is this deadlock that the subject faces
in a universe of the inexistent Other, that Lacan highlights in raising the following
question: S
represents the subject for another signifier, but if there is no Other to
furnish another signifier, what, then, becomes of S
Better yet: for whom or,
theless they are not without convergence in some respect. The seemingly ostentatious con-
nection Lacan is making here between politics and psychoanalysis may find confirmation in the
following passage: there is no difference, once the process has started, between the subject en-
gaged in the path of subversion in order to produce the incurable where the act attains its true
end, and that of the symptom which takes on its revolutionary effect only by not being con-
ducted by the so-called Marxist baton. J. Lacan, Comptes-rendus d'enseignement, in Or-
nicar?, n 29, 1984, p. 24. From the start, Lacan conceived of the symptom as that which disrupts
the smooth working of the social order, betraying the subjects resistance to total alienation in
that order. By taking the lead that the above quote offers us, we will contend that the affinities
laid out by Lacan between his notion of symptom and Marxs proletariat as a symptom of the
bourgeois society can only appear on the basis of Lacans claim that the symptom is a
metaphor. J. Lacan, The Instance of the Letter, crits, p. 439. The point here is that the symp-
tom can generate its subversive effects precisely to the extent that it operates like a metaphor,
that is to say, as a quilting point which, by reconfiguring relations between elements of a given
situation in a different way, momentarily reveals the possibility of a new, an entirely unprece-
dented type of the socio-discursive arrangement.
J. Lacan, III-L'impossible saisir, Le sminaire. Livre XXIV, L'insu que sait de l'une-bvue
s'aile mourre, Ornicar?, n 17/18, 1979, p. 18.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 265
rather, for what, then, is the subject represented? And vice versa, the the put-
ting of the master signifier, S
that signifier namely whose principle function is
to ensure the legibility of the given discursive space in parenthesis and hence
making a given situation illegible, requires that the subject, by assuming the im-
possibility of a closure, nevertheless finds a way of telling the situation, i.e., of
making it legible.
The problem for contemporary emancipatory politics is not that the closure of
the incomplete, not-all discursive space is actually impossible, but that it cannot
be represented in the symbolic, i.e. effected through the quilting point. To put it
another way, insofar as the counting effected by the master and the counting ac-
complished by the hysteric can never coincide in the real, as they can meet only
in infinity, at the (non-)place of the limit, what is at issue here is an operation of
counting that brings together the infinite and the finite, an operation, that is,
which, by revealing the action of the structuring rule of the established regime
as that of the infinitization, thus opening a perspective of infinity, could also give
cause to hope for its modification. In this context, Badiou's critique of Rancire
has a very precise theoretical value: it reminds us that the theory of the double
counting does not suffice to account for a politics of emancipation capable of
producing something new in a given situation, indeed, of bringing about a new
situation in the actually existing situation, as this situation already presents it-
self as a situation of infinite possibilites. Emancipatory politics in the epoch of
the nonexistent Other is therefore confronted with the task of reversing the struc-
tural impossibility of the closure of the capitalist discourse into a condition of
possibility of invention, ultimately, the invention of a new socio-political struc-
ture, while assuming the impossibility of the closure. For such an invention can-
not be satisfied with the anchoring point, the metaphoric totalization, as it
always brings us back inexorably towards the infinitization of metonymy. What
is needed in addition, indeed, as the beyond of the theory of counting that is
modeled on the hysterical revolt, is a theory of a break or rupture capable of pro-
ducing effects that forever change the discursive configuration within the limit-
less universe. By making a move to Lacans notion of the cut, one finds a possible
theoretical framework through which one can situate a possible way out for the
contemporary politics of emancipation by opposing the infinitization of an in-
terminable discourse, such as the capitalists, and an operation of a transfini-
tization, to use Cantors term, effected through the cut respectively termed act
(Lacan) and event (Badiou).
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 266
The hypothesis here is that the cut comes to the place of the metaphoric suture
or, rather, the cut intervenes there where metaphor as an act of closure is no
longer operational, i.e. in an infinite universe in which it is impossible to create,
by way of a predicate, a totality. The difference between metaphor and the cut
could then be summarized as a difference between a space of discursivity seen
as a structure striving towards completion, towards closure, and a space of dis-
cursivity considered, on the contrary, as being not-all, i.e. the incompleteness
that can never be completed. Not-all, in this view, is not a discursive structure
which would be decompleted, it is rather presented as a series without any limit,
moreover, a lawless series. In a sense, both, metaphor and the cut attempt to re-
configure the existing discursive universe on the bases of radical groundless-
ness. Yet unlike metaphor, which comes to punctuate the metonymic slippage,
thereby allowing for the closure of the series, its totalization, the cut intervenes
precisely in order to prevent the closure. Bringing a not-all sequence back to the
hole, the cut thus makes the point of the real, the radical lawlessness, emerge.
Generally speaking, the exposition of the point of the real as the immanent im-
possibility of a given social configuration, is a constitutive prerequisite to initi-
ate change. It then follows that for change to be possible at all, the point of the
impossible of a given social order must be identified. A truly transformative act
would thus consist in marking the point of the impossible-real of the existing
socio-political situation, more precisely, marking a point at which the impossi-
ble turns into the possible. Inasmuch as change can only occur as a disruption
of the hegemonic regime of discursivity, contingency must be established at the
point at which the impossible, that which can not be, emerges: something that
is considered as impossible suddenly comes into existence. With this in mind,
the politics of emancipation could be seen as aiming at making contingency a
necessity in order to approach the impossible: to invent a new form of collectiv-
ity, while acknowledging the impossibility of grounding it in the real. However,
in the existing conjecture, which is itself structured as a lawless sequence, this
point of the real, marking some radical heterogeneity to that which exists, is not
articulated to any kind of impossibility, whether presented as defense or inter-
diction, rather, it is obscured by a seemingly limitless expansion of the realm of
the possible. In an era of the frenetic production of the new for the sake of the
new, in an era in which everything is new but the new signifier which would ren-
der the situation legible, its structure discernible, the only manner, in Badious
vocabulary, to say the situation, which would allow one to orientate oneself in
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 267
existence, is through a veritable cutting gesture. There where the inconsistent
Other cannot provide the subject with a compass, it is up to the subject itself to
discover a stopping point, which would put an end to the erring of the general-
ized metonymyzation of the masters discourse of our time, to measure its mea-
surelessness, as Badiou would say it, a measurelessness which is itself due to
the errant, non-measurable surplus of the Others power, the subjective errancy
of the power of the State,
and would therefore anchor the subjects being.
But for this, it is necessary that the cut, to quote Lacan, be revealed as the knife
which introduces difference into [the world]
. From such a perspective it could
then be said that the cut can be validated in view of its consequences. One does
not demonstrate the cut, insofar as, for Lacan and for Badiou alike, it is verified,
just as in science, through its effects on the real. That is to say, a true cut is only
true by way of its consequences, or, which amounts to the same, [I]t is only true
inasmuch as it is truly followed
. The cut, in this account, no less than the mas-
ters catachresis, has the same creative power of a groundless positing. The es-
sential difference between the cut and the masters point de capiton being,
however, that whereas the masters gesture of closure is only effective if it suc-
ceeds in concealing the groundlessness of this positing, the cut, by contrast, is
overtly situated in a zone beyond all guarantee, beyond the Other as guarantee.
This is why the mode of temporality involved in the masters gesture of closure is
that of retroactivity: using Lacans own terms, it is a question of reordering past
contingencies by conferring on them the sense of necessities to come;
a true cut, to the point that its validation depends upon its consequences, is in-
scribed in the future anterior: it will have been. This is the principal lesson to be
drawn from Lacans seminar Lacte psychanalytique: how can a cut occur such
that it would provoke a logic of consequences to be followed, a logic that, more-
over, derails the transcendental regime of a given discursive universe.
The implication here is that, if the Other is no longer capable of the suture, this
leaves the emancipatory subject the task of coming up with a solution, not, how-
ever, at the level of the signifier, as it will inevitably fuel the process of metony -
mization, but at the level of that which is heterogeneous, disparate with the
See in particular Badious essay Politics as Truth Procedure, in Metapolitics, pp. 144145.
J. Lacan, La psychanalyse dans ses rapports avec la ralit in Autres crits, p. 357.
J. Lacan, D'un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant, p. 13.
J. Lacan, Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, p. 213.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 268
signifier, namely the act. Indeed, it is not enough to expose the inexistence of the
Other and the resultant inconsistency of the social field, it is also necessary to
understand that in relation to the deadlocks of the general metonymization only
the act can be situated as a solution because it does not involve the relation to
the Other.
Intrinsically sui-referential, as it cannot find an ontological support, the act, as
such, is correlative of the inexistence of the Other. But how does the act consti-
tute a resolution to the deadlock of the inexistent Other? Ultimately, what ex-
actly is it that the act affects, modifies, creates? This is where Lacan provides us
with an answer as to the question of whether violence, in the epoch of the in-
consistent Other, is the only way out of the powerlessness of the subject. What
concerns Lacan in this respect is to define a transmutation, a proper conversion
of the subject, a conversion that renders it capable of the act. At the centre of
this is the following question: how is the subject of the signifier, that is, the sub-
ject as an effect of the signifier, implicated in the structure of the act? In the sem-
inar Lacte psychanalytique, Lacan provides a way of thinking about the act that
is slightly different from that furnished in his preceding seminars. The far-reach-
ing novelty of this new approach can help us explain the emergence of the eman-
cipatory subject in an era of otherlessness and, as a corollary, account for two
distinct conceptions of the emancipatory politics. For what is at stake in the act
is the saying of that which, in a given situation, cannot be said, namely its point
of the impossible. Lacans solution to the impasses of the inexistent Other is to
propose a new definition of the act: a paradoxical short circuit of saying and
doing, of speech and action. The act is accomplished through a saying whose
subject, as a result, emerges different, other than he was before: The act (tout
court) takes place by means of a saying, thereby changing its subject.
what is at stake in the act for Lacan is the status of a saying insofar as it is pre-
sumed to produce a set of decisive consequences, starting with the subject. It is
This neologism, which we borrow from C. Soler, by condensing act and atheism in one
word, points to that dimension of the act which could best be designated as the atheistic tran-
scendence, an immanent transcendence beyond all figure of the Other. See C. Soler, Les fins
propres de l'acte analytique, in Actes de l'Ecole de la Cause freudienne, n 12, E.C.F. Paris 1987,
p. 18.
J. Lacan, Comptes-rendus d'enseignements, in Ornicar?, n 29, 1984, p. 18.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 269
here that the crucial aspect of the act comes to light: it is an act which appears
without a subject. Instead of saying that the subject carries out an act, it is the
subject which is considered as resulting from an act.
However, for an act of saying to be taken as a true act, it is required that it leaves
an indelible trace in the universe of discourse within which it occurred. This
clearly indicates that the act is not something that is beyond language, some-
thing that is more real than language, since, for Lacan, the signifying dimension
is constitutive of any act
. And indeed, to paraphrase Lacan himself, the act
does not go without saying. We should not take this to mean that whenever there
is a saying there is also an act. To avoid the absurd conclusion that every act of
saying alters the subject, it is decisive to differentiate between two heterogeneous
ways of doing things with words. Here we have to distinguish between the act
in a Lacanian sense and the act such as has been elaborated by speech act the-
ory in order to accurately locate the true agent in an act. According to J.L. Austin,
for an enunciation, for instance, I promise, I declare a general mobilization,
to count as the accomplishment of an act, there must exist an accepted con-
ventional procedure having a certain conventional effect, that procedure to in-
clude the uttering of certain words by certain persons in certain circumstances.
A true act in Lacans sense, by contrast, is an act for which no such conven-
tional procedure is supplied in advance. What is more, it is only nachtrglich
[retroactively] that an act takes on its value
. In this regard, a Lacanian speech
act is the reverse of an Austinian speech act: while an Austinian speech act,
where the speaker performs an act by proffering a formula designed for that pur-
pose, aims at the absorption of certain ways of doing realized through a mere act
of saying into the signifier, the reduction to the signifier of that which is funda-
mentally heterogeneous and therefore incommensurable with it, namely doing,
a Lacanian speech act pushes the signifier itself beyond the limits of the sym-
bolic. Or to be even more precise, whereas the Austinian speech act, where the
act amounts simply to doing things with words in conformity with a pre-given
convention, a genuine act in Lacans sense involves a passing through a barrier
of the signifier. One could say that such a speech act makes use of the signifier
to bring into existence something that is of the order of the real.
J. Lacan, Lacte psychanalytique (19671968), 16 May 1968.
J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 14.
J. Lacan, Lacte psychanalytique, 16 May 1968.
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It is not by chance that Caesars crossing of the Rubicon illuminates, for Lacan,
the essence of a true act. Indeed, if the signifying dimension is constitutive of the
act as such, this is precisely because for Caesars crossing of the Rubicon to take
on the value of an act, it must go beyond a limit, to cross a boundary that only ex-
ists in the symbolic. That is to say, it is not enough for Caesar to cross the Rubicon
with his army, thereby violating the Roman law according to which the army, upon
returning to Rome, must be disbanded before crossing the Rubicon, he must in
addition proclaim: alea iacta est!. It is in the symbolic itself that this transgres-
sion must be marked. At the same time, the act is correlated to a real upon which
it has effects: the inscription of some radical discontinuity in the symbolic, which
thereby inaugurates a reconfiguration of the existing discursive universe. In em-
phasizing the dimension of discontinuity brought about through an act, it should
be noted, however, that the Lacanian notion of act is not primarily concerned with
the transgression. Rather, the crossing of a purportedly inviolable barrier is to be
understood less as the hysterics act of defiance directed against the Others pro-
hibition, than as an attempt at locating the point of the impossible of the existent
social order: marking and dissolving at the same time the point of the impossible-
real in the situation, the act succeeds to initiate a set of until then unheard of pos-
sibilities, to chart an uncharted zone, beyond borders, to be explored. There is,
then, an act on the condition that the crossing of the symbolic barrier is conceived
as a clearing gesture signaling a new beginning which, however, cannot be at-
tained without crossing some point of impossibility. It is in this sense that we could
speak of the act as constituting a true beginning insofar as it gives rise to a new de-
to be sustained by way of its consequences. And we can start to see more
clearly now that it is only through such a forcing of the barrier of the symbolic that
an act can constitute an interruption, a break, a discontinuity that forever sepa-
rates a before and an after.
But what becomes of the subject after the act? Undoubtedly, Caesar before cross-
ing the Rubicon and Caesar after crossing the Rubicon are not the same Caesar.
By crossing the Rubicon, by inscribing in the symbolic his gesture of transgres-
sion, alea iacta est!, Caesar, who launched this new signifier and thereby in-
troduced a new order in the world, becomes himself nothing more than a waste
product of his proper act. The moment of the act, strictly speaking, is the mo-
ment at which the subject appears to be suspended between the old subject
Ibid.,10 January 1968.
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that he was before the act, and a new being that is a being without essence, as
he will only become who he really is through the deployment of the acts conse-
quences. He will become what he is, i.e., nothing other than a series of conse-
quences that follow from his act. Stated otherwise, the act does not include, at
the moment of its realization, the presence of the subject. It is only after the act
and through its consequences that the subject will find its presence, but a re-
newed presence, says Lacan. We are confronted here with two fundamentally
different subjects: the first one, the one that will be ultimately sacrificed, is the
alienated subject of the signifier, and another subject, the one that emerges dis-
identified, without a mark and therefore in search of a new mark, a new signifier.
It is this fundamental mutation of the subject that could be referred to as the sui-
cide of the subject, to use the term J.-A. Miller prefers in order to emphasize that
the (old) subject, i.e., the subject as an effect of the signifier, has to die in order
to make it possible, by virtue of the act, for a new, wholly different subject to
: the subject of an infinitization of the consequences of his/her act.
The act of crossing a boundary that is traced in the symbolic has the effect of
shattering the existing symbolic order. So what characterizes the act is not merely
the fact that it alters the subject, it is not just the death of the old subject and the
birth of a new one, but the act, also and essentially, involves a modification of
that agency at which or against which it is, ultimately, always directed: the Other.
Generally speaking, it is by taking into account this address to the Other that
it was possible for Lacan to oppose acting out and passage l'acte, passage to the
act, two types of acts particularly difficult to distinguish as they both appear to
involve an unexpected, violent headlong movement. Lacan defines acting out as
the subjects playing out on a stage, literally making a scene for the Other, and a
passage to the act as an attempt to detach itself from the Other. In the event of act-
ing out, the subject addresses the Other through his/her act, thereby contribut-
ing to making this Other consist. Through the passage to the act, in contrast, the
subject in effect escapes from the power of the Other, but at the price of a dras-
tic separation: by evacuating himself or herself from the stage. Signaling in this
way the subjects definitive separation from the Other, the passage to the act en-
tails at the same time the subject's disappearance.
J.-A. Miller, Jacques Lacan: remarques sur son concept de passage lacte, in Actualits
psychiatriques, n 1, 1988, p. 52.
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However, the passage to the act is not Lacans final word on the question. There is
another angle in terms of which it is possible to draw a far clearer distinction be-
tween a true act, on one hand, and both, the acting out and the passage to the act,
on the other. This is not the final word, since it is against a background of this sec-
ond demarcation that he seeks to elaborate more rigorously the act in relation to
the Other. What a genuine act, for Lacan, has in common with the passage to act
consists in the fact that both can only be accomplished in the void of the Other; at
the very moment of its realization, the act appears to be without a support in the
Other. This is why, for Lacan, one can never know what an act will bring about.
More importantly, there will always be the risk that the act will flip over into a mere
mise-en-scne, a playing out for the Other, in a word, into an acting out.
It then
appears that a true act, because it does not belong to the order of calculation or rea-
soning, as such, is paradoxically left at the mercy of the Other. This reintroduc-
tion of the Other in the act, however, requires an additional distinction, this time
a distinction between the act in the proper sense of the word and the passage to the
act. What would a proper act be, then, in light of this distinction?
It is noteworthy that this demarcation from the passage to the act was introduced
by Lacan in passing, as it were, yet at a crucial turning-point in his teaching,
when he proposed a singular procedure, termed the pass, destined to verify, that
is, to ratify the purportedly irreversible change in the subjects status at the end
of analysis.
The point at issue here is that because Lacans proposition, Propo-
sition of 9 October 1967
, met with resistance by the old guard of Lacanian-
ism, this failure of his act leads Lacan to a radical reformulation of the act in
its relation to its outcome. At the centre of his re-elaboration of the notion of act at
that time is namely the question of the kind of authentication that the act might re-
ceive. In fact, the second definition of the act proposed by Lacan is, strangely
enough, best argued through the experience of failure. Commenting on the failure
of his Proposition, Lacan gives us another very important clue to understanding
the act. It is therefore from the perspective of this uncertain fate of his speech act
known as the Proposition that Lacan is able to shed some light on the act as
such. Namely, that if all he received from the Other as a response to his Proposi-
J. Lacan, Comptes-rendus d'enseignements, in Ornicar ?, n 29, p. 23.
Namely, the pass as a modification presumably indicating the subjects passing from the posi-
tion of the analysand to that of the analyst is the one which marks the destitution of the subject
of the signifier and its passage into the mode of the object, the passage from subject to object.
J. Lacan, Autres crits (Paris: Seuil, 2001), p. 243259.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 273
tion was a flat rejection, the Others No!, is not just an aspect of the act, it is rather
the fundamental feature of what we mean by the act. One can go further and state
that, due to the Others refusal to ratify his Proposition, Lacan is obliged to raise
the question of whether his Proposition is an act at all. What, then, according to
Lacan himself, is his Proposition lacking, such that it might not deserve the qual-
ification of an act? Whereas the passage to the act may well remain indifferent to
what follows since the consequences of the act are precisely what the subject who
precipitates himself into the act does not want to know anything about, this can-
not be said of the Proposition. Indeed, the fact that the Proposition has met
with resistance, rejection even, from the Other, is seen by Lacan as an indicator
that the status of the act is retroactively annihilated. Hence, the only answer to the
question: Is it an act?, for Lacan, is: It depends on its consequences.
centrality of consequences is arguably at the heart of Lacans revisited theory of
the act. In fact, it is by focusing on the consequences that the precarious, un-
grounded nature of the act is truly brought to light. If Lacan can claim that it is in
the consequences of what is said that the act of saying is judged,
this is because
what one does with what is said remains open
. What this immediately implies
is that the essential feature of the act at stake for Lacan here introduces a peculiar
logic of consequences to account for the effect the act has in the situation in which
it has been accomplished.
This brings us to what we take to be one of the most important shifts in Lacans
theorizing of the act. One cannot but experience some difficulty in reconciling
this emphasis on the consequences of the act, with Lacans initial insistence
that, for a genuine act, there is no after, no tomorrow. Is not, which is now
thrown into question, in essence, what Lacan regarded as the exact nature of
(the passage to) the act, i.e., this dimension of finality, of irrevocability, without
appeal to any tomorrow, this refusal to take into consideration the outcome,
the continuation of the act, ultimately, the effacement of that which would have
issued from it, the utter indifference with respect to the after? These two ap-
parently contradictory aspects of the act are none the less bound together. To
make the status of the act dependent upon what follows, to take into account,
so to speak, as an integral part of the act, this uncertainty, i.e. the impossibility
of predicting its consequences, in short, the dependence of the act on the Other
J. Lacan, Discours de l'EPF, in Autres crits, p. 262.
J. Lacan, Encore, p. 16.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 274
that is supposed to ratify it, announces an unheard of heresy with respect to the
Lacanian canonical definition of the act that has been modeled on the passage
to the act. As is well-known, the latter constitutes, for Lacan, a paradigm of every
(successful) act as it is through such a passage to the act that the subject can di-
vorce himself from the Other, definitely tear away, wrench himself from of its
power. This also explains why suicide is regarded by Lacan as the only act that
can succeed without misfiring
. But if we take the consequences of the act to
properly constitute the structure of the act, does this not indicate a major shift,
a displacement, perhaps even a throwing into question of Lacan's classical def-
inition of the act? Is it not rather a break with the Other inherent in the very
essence of the act? Is it not a moment of the subject's definitive separation from
the Other?
If Lacan is concerned with the failure of his Proposition to the point of doubt-
ing its status as an act, this is because at the moment of its accomplishment, we
cannot know whether we are dealing here with an impotent posturing, ineffec-
tive gesticulation, or with a true act capable of producing certain dislocatory ef-
fects in the existing situation. Actually, by inscribing the consequences in the
very status of the act, Lacan merely indicates that the outcome of the act is un-
certain, as indeed, the status of the act depends, ultimately, on the Other, i.e.
the effect it has on its law. The Other, thus, unexpectedly re-appears as that in-
stance which is supposed, retroactively, of course, after the event, to ratify the
act. Which is but another way of saying that the only authentication of the act as
a transformative power follows from its consequences. At the moment at which
the question is raised of knowing whether we are dealing here with a futile ges-
ticulation, an empty posture, or with something that is capable of producing cer-
tain dislocatory effects in the existing situation, the question of the address to the
Other is re-posed with all urgency. The true in an act in Lacans sense, is then to
be measured by its consequences; ultimately it has to be judged by the effects it
has on the Other. What distinguishes the act, then, is not simply the subjects
separation from the Other, but also, or even more so, the reconfiguration that
the act causes in the Others world, the reconfiguration that may go so far as to
the emergence of a new figure of the Other. It is only in this sense that a true act
constitutes an interruption, a cut, a discontinuation, in relation to the existing
J. Lacan, Television, trans. by Denis Hollier, Rosalind Krauss, and Annette Michelson (New
York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990), p. 43.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 275
state of affairs, and the founding gesture, the foundation of a new order, a new
situation, indeed, the creation of a new discursive universe.
The impression now is that the emphasis has shifted: the act is less a matter of a
break, a discontinuity, than one of inaugurating a new series, initiating a new
counting. How are we to understand this paradoxical structure of the act? Dis-
continuity, a breaking up of the (signifying) chain is undoubtedly essential to the
notion of the act. The act, in this respect, designates the fact that an interruption
occurred in a situation, yet an interruption which nonetheless points to an after,
to some tomorrow, whilst signifying a new beginning. How is this possible?
Being utterly contingent, i.e. underived, emerging, as it were, ex nihilo, the act, at
the moment of its accomplishment, assures nothing. In effect, the act cannot guar-
antee that anything at all will follow. What specifies an act as the beginning of a
new epoch, however, is precisely the uncertainty of the future to which it is ex-
posed because of its consequences. Or more broadly stated: to the extent that the
act breaks the link between the before and the after, to put the act in its place is to
put it in a chain, in sequence. Through its consequences, the act is inscribed in a
chain, in a metonymic series, to be precise, without being entirely able to master
it, to control it. Only if the act succeeds in transforming the series in which it is in-
scribed, into a new sequence, can it be decided after the fact, that is to say, retroac-
tively, whether we are truly presented here with an act or not. On the one hand, in
all genuine act, there is a dimension of auto: it is by authorizing oneself that
one can accomplish an act, which is to say that one has to take upon oneself the
fact that one finds no support, no guarantee in the Other, the symbolic order. The
act, in this regard, is a causa sui, a cause of itself, which, of course, is not to be
confused with the subject. For the cause that is at work in the act, cannot be at-
tributed to the subject, rather, it must be located in the object, and more specifi-
cally, in the cause of desire as that which is withheld from the subject's knowledge.
Which is why Lacan evokes a paradoxical structure of the act, since, in the act the
object is active, while the subject is subverted.
On the other hand, though, the act is equally inscribed in the dimension of the
retroactivity, in so far as it is precisely to the point that it is on the basis of its con-
sequences that it can be decided whether the act was accomplished or not. To state
with Lacan that the destiny, even the validity of the act, is dependent on its con-
J. Lacan, La mprise du sujet suppos savoir, in Autres crits, p. 332.
FV_02_2009_prelom_NOVO.qxp:FV 14.3.10 9:28 Page 276
sequences, is to state that the status of the act is retroactive.
But what does this
dependence of his/her act on the consequences that proceed from it, ultimately,
on the Other's reception of the act, entail for the subject? What, then, is the role of
the subject if the act is essentially transindividual? To this question no other re-
sponse can be given except one in terms of the infinitization of the subject: in a uni-
verse in which the Other does not exist, the subject accedes to certitude solely by
virtue of an act, on the condition, however, that he or she assumes the ground-
lessness of the act itself.
In this respect, we can claim that every act worthy of the
name is accomplished in the perspective of the last judgement, since to accom-
plish an act [] means to be responsible for the act and its consequences
. A new
subject emerges as the effect of the act. This subject, however, is not to be identi-
fied simply with the agency which assumes, takes upon itself the responsibility
for the always unforeseeable outcome of the act. It would be more appropriate to
say that the subject is the insistence of the (in principle at least) interminable se-
ries of the consequences brought about through the act.
There is perhaps no better illustration of this paradoxical aspect of the act than
the famous dialogue (whether it actually happened or not) between Lenin and
Trotsky, on the brink of the October Revolution: What if we fail? asks Lenin anx-
iously. What if we succeed?, no less anxiously replies Trotsky. Despite the fact
that this divergence in questions quite obviously indicates two distinct concep-
tions of revolution and politics in general, the subject here has to answer for his/its
own course of action. Signaling a moment of anxiety preceding every act for
there is no answer in the Other to tell him or her what she or he should do both
of these questions indicate that, regardless to the outcome of the impending rev-
olutionary act, the subject has already situated what is about to be carried out in
the perspective of the last judgement, thereby demonstrating his willingness to
assume the unforeseeable consequences that proceed from this act, consequences
that, ultimately, remain at the mercy of the Other. But what Other is the act aim-
ing at in a universe in which the Other, precisely, does not exist? That is the
quandary proper to the act by which the question of the act becomes a quandary
for both psychoanalysis and politics. There seems to be no other way out of this im-
passe but to assert that the act itself creates a new Other to which it is addressed.
Here we draw on J.-A. Millers elaboration of the act in his seminar Politique lacanienne,
27. 5. 1998.
J. Lacan, La mprise du sujet suppos savoir, p. 338.
J.-A. Miller, Politique lacanienne, 27. 5. 1998.
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One might just as well say that the Other at which the act is directed is in essence
an effect of the act. It is the act itself that creates that agency that is supposed to be
validating it. Being the material support of the act, the subject necessarily fails to
notice that the act itself creates the Other, that space namely in which the inven-
tions it brought about will have been inscribed. At once anticipatory and retroac-
tive, the act always presents itself in its paradoxical aspect: it is both ungrounded
(at the moment of its occurrence) and foundational (from the viewpoint of its con-
sequences), foundational inasmuch as it calls into existence both the subject as
that instance that will assume the consequences that follow from the act, and the
Other that will retroactively ratify it as an act. The Other, which is, strictly speak-
ing, the after-effect of the act itself.
It is here that the implications of Lacans novel account of the act become valid for
emancipatory politics. One of the paradoxes of the kind of field that politics con-
stitutes, is that it is a field in which this structure of the act remains unsurpassed.
Indeed, according to some of its most radical contemporary theorists, emancipa-
tory politics is impossible without the claim that people, taken indistinctly, are ca-
pable of thinking
. More specifically, what singularizes this unshakeable belief in
the capacity of people to think essentially consists in the wager that there is a cause
that mobilizes people, in short, a belief that their desire is guided by a cause that,
while operating unbeknown to people, i.e. going beyond what they know, never-
theless makes it possible for them, to paraphrase Lacan, to be sure in their ac-
tion. While finding no support in the Other, the emancipatory subject is guided
surely by some cause unbeknown to it, so much so that it is never in the position
to ask: What is to be done? Indeed, from the moment one starts to ask what to
do?, it is already too late. The desire that was animated by this cause is already
fading, thus announcing the return of anxiety, that affect namely that reins in con-
temporary democratic materialism.
A. Badiou, Metapolitics, p. 142.
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